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Great Restaurant Meals At Home

With food prices soaring, taking your family out to eat can get really expensive.

But chef Joey Altman is sharing the secrets behind great restaurant meals in the book he just co-authored with Jennie Schact, "Without Reservations: How to Make Bold, Creative, Flavorful Food at Home" (Wiley).

In addition to his restaurant expertise, Altman hosts the popular San Francisco-based cooking show "Bay Cafe," which enables him to spend a lot of time with top chefs from across the country. It's considered a must-see for top chefs and food personalities working in or visiting the Bay area.

And as The Early Show's "Chef on a Shoestring" Saturday, he had only $40 to create a three-course meal for four people.

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Altman opted to make it a spicy one geared toward summer. The menu: Spinach-Strawberry Salad; Spicy Lemon & Basil Chicken; and Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Fresh Raspberries.

Take-Home Tips:

  • Toast pine nuts for about 8 minutes to bring out their natural buttery flavor.
  • Soak and drain capers to remove excess salt.
  • Mandolines start at $10 and can be used with most fruits and vegetables.


    Feta is an aged cheese, commonly produced in blocks, and has a slightly grainy texture. It is used as a table cheese, as well as in salads, pastries and in baking. In Greek cuisine, Feta is a brined curd cheese traditionally made in Greece with ewe's and goat's milk. Feta is salted and cured in a brine solution (based on water or whey) for several months, it dries out rapidly when removed from the brine. Feta cheese is white, usually formed into square cakes, and can range from soft to semi-hard, with a tangy, salty flavor that can range from mild to sharp. The cured cheese easily crumbles.

    Pine Nuts have been eaten in Europe and Asia since the Paleolithic period. Pine nuts are best when lightly toasted and have a rich buttery flavor. They are frequently added to meat, fish, vegetable dishes and are an essential component of Italian pesto sauce. Pine nuts contain thiamine, vitamin B1 and protein. Many dieters eat pine nuts because of their proven ability to suppress hunger.

    Dried Currants are actually small raisins - the dried fruit of the Zante grape, originally from Corinth, Greece. Zante currants are very small and intensely tart flavored. They are not usually eaten raw, instead used for making raisins and occasionally wine. When dried, they are often referred to as dried currants or just "currants" and in this form are used in cooking and baking.

    Capers are actually immature buds plucked from a small bush native to the Middle East and Mediterranean regions of the world. Fresh caper blossoms are not especially flavorful, but their sharpness increases dramatically after sun-drying and brining in vinegar. The caper is often used as a seasoning or garnish. Capers are a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine.

    Zucchini is a small summer squash. The zucchini can be yellow, green or light green, and generally has a similar shape to a ridged cucumber. Mature zucchini can be as much as three feet long, but are often fibrous and not appetizing to eat. Unlike cucumber, zucchini are usually served cooked. It can be prepared using a variety of cooking techniques, including steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed and baked, barbecued, fried, or incorporated in other recipes such as soufflés.

    Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar, mixing this with gelatin, and letting it cool until set. An Italian phrase which literally means "cooked cream." It can be made a day or two in advance and kept refrigerated until ready to be served.

    To read excerpts from "Without Reservations: How to Make Bold, Creative, Flavorful Food at Home," by Joey Altman and Jennie Schacht, click here.



    Strawberry-Spinach Salad

    1/2 pound baby spinach leaves, rinsed and spun dry
    1 pint ripe strawberries, rinsed and stemmed
    1 small red onion, halved and sliced thin
    1/2cup crumbled feta cheese
    1/2 cup pine nuts
    3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


    Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

    Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast about 8 minutes, until fragrant and golden. (Alternatively, you can toast them in a small dry skillet over medium heat.) Set aside to cool.

    To make the dressing, dice 2 large or 3 small strawberries; slice the remainder.

    Mash the diced berries with a fork in a small bowl. Whisk in the balsamic vinegar, oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

    In a salad bowl, toss together the spinach, onions, pine nuts, strawberries, and half of the feta cheese. Toss with enough dressing to coat the salad. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Distribute the salad among four plates and top with the remaining feta.

    Spicy Lemon-Basil Chicken

    4 medium boneless, skinless half chicken breasts (about 2 pounds)
    2 tablespoons dried currants
    1/2-to-1 teaspoon red chile flakes, to taste
    1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
    1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
    1 tablespoon minced garlic
    2 teaspoons honey
    1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter


    Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

    Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, until fragrant and golden. (Alternatively, you can toast them in a small dry skillet over medium heat.)

    Set aside to cool. Turn off the oven.

    Soak the currants in warm water in a small bowl until plump, about 10 minutes. Drain well.

    Put the chicken breasts in a gallon-size re-sealable plastic bag. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, honey, chile flakes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a few grindings of black pepper. Seal the bag and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

    Preheat the oven to 375 ºF.

    Lightly coat an oven-proof skillet with olive oil and set it over medium heat.

    Remove the chicken from the bag, reserving the marinade in the bag. Lay the chicken in the skillet top side down (where the skin was) and sear for about 2 minutes.

    Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the chicken is just cooked through, about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the breasts. They should feel firm but have a little give when you press them with your finger. Transfer the chicken to a plate and drape loosely with foil to keep it warm.

    Return the pan to medium-high heat and pour in the reserved marinade from the bag.

    Stir in the currants, capers, pine nuts, and butter.

    Simmer for a couple of minutes until the flavors are well blended and the sauce is slightly reduced.

    Return the chicken to the pan, turning the breasts in the sauce to coat. Stir in the chopped basil.

    Place the chicken breasts presentation side up on four warmed plates.
    Spoon the sauce over the chicken, carefully distributing all the goodies with the flavorful sauce.

    Sautéed Zucchini with Almonds

    2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
    1/2 cup sliced almonds
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano or other quality Parmesan cheese (optional)


    Cut the zucchini into 1/4- inch julienne with a mandoline. Or to cut by hand, use a sharp chef's knife to cut off a thin lengthwise strip, then place the zucchini cut side down on a cutting board.

    Cut the zucchini lengthwise into 1/4 inch planks, and then cut across the planks to make think batons.

    Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.

    Add the almonds and sauté until the zucchini are just tender, about 1 minute.

    Transfer the zucchini and almonds to a platter. Use a vegetable peeler to shave Parmesan over the top, if desired.

    Serve immediately.

    Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries

    2 teaspoons granulated gelatin
    1 cup heavy cream
    1 cup buttermilk
    vegetable oil
    1 cup whole milk
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract or half 4-inch vanilla bean


    Coat six 4-ounce molds very lightly with vegetable oil.

    Pour 1/4 cup of the milk into a wide shallow bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over to distribute it evenly over the surface. Let stand without stirring for 5 minutes to soften.

    While the gelatin softens, put the remaining 3/4 cup of the milk, the cream, and sugar into a small saucepan.

    Cut the vanilla bean, if using, in half lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the saucepan, and drop in the pod.

    Cook over medium heat until very warm, with small bubbles just beginning to form around the edges of the pan. (If the liquid is boiling hot, let it cool a minute before adding the gelatin.)

    Remove from the heat and stir in the softened gelatin, stirring continuously for a full 2 minutes to assure that it is completely dissolved.

    Stir in the vanilla extract, if using, and the buttermilk.

    Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a 4-cup measure or bowl with pouring spout.

    Discard the vanilla pod, if you used it.

    Fill the molds with the mixture and allow to cool to almost room temperature before refrigerating until set, for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days. (The panna cotta will become a bit firmer over the next few hours.)

    To avoid condensation, do not cover until the panna cotta is well chilled.

    To serve, carefully dip the molds into very warm water up to the fill line for 5 to 10 seconds, being careful not to get any water into the panna cotta.

    Wipe the outside of the molds with a towel before inverting onto a plate.
    Garnish with your choice of fresh berries before serving.

    How did Altman do with our $40 budget?

    baby spinach $2.39
    strawberries $2.99
    red onion $0.48
    feta cheese $2.59
    pine nuts $3.75

    chicken breasts $6.38
    dried currants $2.19
    red chile flakes $0.79
    capers $1.79
    lemon juice $0.33
    garlic $0.39
    honey $2.19
    basil $1.99
    zucchini $1.98
    almonds $2.99

    gelatin $1.59
    heavy cream $1.19
    buttermilk $1.29
    raspberries $2.50

    FINAL COST = $39.79!

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